The Positive Side of Being a Pessimist

Pessimists May Be Better Gamblers

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 06, 2004

Feb. 6, 2004 -- It may be hard for pessimists to admit, but a new study shows pessimism has its benefits.

Researchers found that a healthy dose of pessimism may come in handy in many real-life situations where optimists may be overly hopeful.

For example, the study showed that pessimists tend to fare better as gamblers and know when to cut their losses rather than let it roll. Researchers say that kind of attitude may also pay off in other situations, such as playing the stock market.

Pessimism's Plus-Side

In the study, published in this month's issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers looked at the effects of a person's disposition on their gambling behavior.

Three groups of college students were given a list of questions to determine whether they were pessimistic or optimistic as well as assess their attitudes about gambling. In a series of different tests, researchers then had the students play several hands of blackjack and play a simulated slot machine game.

Throughout the tests, researchers found that optimists were more likely to believe that they expected to win at gambling. This relationship was even stronger in individuals who experienced gambling losses. This finding was consistent with the researchers theory that the optimist would reframe a negative event (gambling losses) into a positive -- the belief that they could win.

When asked about their experiences later, optimists were also more likely to remember more wins than the pessimists.

Researchers found the greatest differences between the groups emerged after losing.

"Our data show no difference in betting between optimists and pessimists after winning. But optimists are more likely to persist in the face of losses," says researcher Bryan Gibson, a social psychologist at Central Michigan University, in a news release. "They're less ready to give up hope."

The study showed that pessimists were more likely to reduce their bets if their past performance had been poor, but the optimists seemed relatively unfazed by their losses.

Researchers say this study only looked at the effects of optimism and pessimism on gambling, but their findings may apply to other situations. For example, pessimists may have the advantage in situations where resources and opportunities are limited, such as a down stock market, while optimists may fare better in situations where persistence is rewarded in the face of adversity.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Gibson, B. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, February 2004; vol 29. News release, Central Michigan University.

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